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Musk’s Israel visit highlights tech mogul’s erratic global influence

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Elon Musk and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both got something out of their controversial meeting on Monday.

For Musk, it was a chance to win over public — and corporate — sympathy after his antisemitic posts on the platform he owns, X, triggered an exodus of advertisers. 

Netanyahu left the meeting with a new deal that secured Israel’s control over Musk’s SpaceX Starlink satellites across Israel and Gaza.

“Because he is such an influential and powerful person, he can get the attention of the Israeli prime minister even in the middle of a war,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

“That allows him to dramatically send messages that other business leaders, let alone ordinary people, just would never be able to muster,” Barrett said.

Musk’s control of Starlink in particular — a massive satellite network that has proven more effective than even US military internet solutions in war zones such as Ukraine — has amplified his clout at times of global conflict.

But the visit also showed how his erratic persona is intertwined with the very businesses world leaders have come to rely on.

Major companies, including Disney, Apple and IBM, pulled ads off X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, two weeks ago after Musk promoted a blatantly antisemitic post on the platform.

It was the latest advertiser pull out on X since Musk purchased the platform a year ago. But unlike other advertising boycott campaigns that spawned from Musk’s policy changes on the site, this was triggered by his own individual comments. 

Israel ‘can’t afford not to engage’ with Musk 

Emerson Brooking, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab, said Musk’s online behavior, coupled with privately owning the social media company without being beholden to a board of directors, puts him in a unique space even among his fellow billionaire tech CEOs. 

“[As] a single person, he wields as much influence over the social media industry as anyone. But moreover, not only has he concentrated so much power in his own hands, but he remains remarkably undisciplined and gullible for someone who spends so much time using social media platforms,” Brooking said. 

Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Israel “can’t afford not to engage with the man who owns what is arguably the most important social media tool and that is being wielded in the war for public opinion.”

“It’s not something that the Israeli government can afford to ignore. Whether or not they like what Elon Musk does, or says, matters very little at this moment, when this battle for hearts and minds is arguably at its peak,” added Schanzer, who wrote the book “Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel and Eleven Days of War.”

Musk hosted Netanyahu for a livechat on X, where he agreed with the Israeli leader that Hamas must be destroyed, credited Israel with trying to minimize civilian casualties in its war and criticized Hamas fighters as expressing joy in killing innocent civilians. 

“It’s one thing, obviously, if civilians die accidentally, but it’s another thing to revel in the joy of killing civilians, that’s evil,” Musk said.

On Tuesday, though, following the trip to Israel, Musk was back to causing online controversy. He published, then deleted, a post on X that embraced the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory about child sex trafficking. 

“Every time he shares this content, or makes these sorts of inane comments. People pay attention. New people discover these conspiracy theories. They may choose to believe them, they may choose to act on them, and that’s his responsibility,” Brooking said. 

Could Musk’s posts hurt his ‘golden goose’?

Nu Wexler, a partner at Four Corners Public Affairs who previously worked at Google, Twitter, and Facebook, said Tesla is the “golden goose” that funds many of Musk’s other ventures, including X or his new xAI company. 

Any reputational damage, “puts the rest of his empire at risk,” and with SpaceX and Tesla operating in sectors with a “lower tolerance for chaos,” that could threaten the bottom line, Wexler said. 

“It’s possible that at a certain point, if this continues, the Pentagon might say, ‘Look, maybe we don’t want to spend as much money with a CEO who talks about ‘Pizzagate.’ And that’s the real risk. It’s not really the risk to X,” Wexler said. 

Although the White House condemned Musk’s post, the administration is still on track to keep up its partnership with Musk’s SpaceX. 

Barrett said Musk’s other entities may not face an immediate impact, but in the long term his erratic behavior could eventually hurt his other enterprises. Especially as electric cars become less of a novelty, consumers may be less drawn to Tesla, he said. 

As for SpaceX, though, he said there are “too few alternatives in the commercial space industry for the government to casually just swear off a company that they’ve been working with very closely for a period of years.” 

Fifty-seven percent of all 8,955 working active satellites globally are Starlink, according to an estimate by Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer and astrophysicist at Smithsonian and Harvard Center for Astrophysics. 

World leaders weigh Musk’s comments, Starlink’s power

Musk’s online musings have put other world leaders in a position of weighing use of Starlink while condemning the billionaire’s posts. 

While Musk made Starlink available to Ukrainian forces trying to push out Russian occupying forces – and has financed its use – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticized Musk for trying to play diplomat after the billionaire floated a “peace plan” on X that called for recognizing Russian control over occupied-Ukrainian territory.

Musk has also reportedly put restrictions on Starlink that hindered Ukrainian forces ability to communicate during military operations taking place outside the range the satellites provided.

Taiwanese officials, taking lessons from Ukraine’s defense against Russia, said they see as a national security priority ensuring their communications are not knocked out in the event of Chinese aggression, but have not committed to buying Starlink.

Musk told the Financial Times in an interview published in Oct 2022 that the Chinese government sought reassurances that he would not sell Starlink to Taiwan, and then floated his own solution to resolving the conflict, which largely aligned with Beijing’s view of the island.

In September, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu targeted Musk in a post on X saying Taiwan is “certainly not for sale.”

Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s representative to the U.S. and candidate for vice president in the January elections, did not address directly reporters questions in June if Taipei was interested in purchasing Starlink to help secure its communications platforms in the event of a conflict. 

“We’re looking at, on a broader sense, what has been applied in, not only Ukraine but also in the broader international commercial market, more resilient alternatives and options available for communications,” she said, suggesting that there are market and legal challenges to relying on the commercial satellites.

Brooking said officials should be wary of what Musk says, noting that the Starlink deal with Israel was a flip from Musk’s previous offer for Starlink use for humanitarian aid organizations in Gaza. 

“It shows the ease with which he changes his own positions, but then also the doubt with which anyone should rightfully treat his public comments,” he said.

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.





Elon Musk and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both got something out of their controversial meeting on Monday.

For Musk, it was a chance to win over public — and corporate — sympathy after his antisemitic posts on the platform he owns, X, triggered an exodus of advertisers. 

Netanyahu left the meeting with a new deal that secured Israel’s control over Musk’s SpaceX Starlink satellites across Israel and Gaza.

“Because he is such an influential and powerful person, he can get the attention of the Israeli prime minister even in the middle of a war,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

“That allows him to dramatically send messages that other business leaders, let alone ordinary people, just would never be able to muster,” Barrett said.

Musk’s control of Starlink in particular — a massive satellite network that has proven more effective than even US military internet solutions in war zones such as Ukraine — has amplified his clout at times of global conflict.

But the visit also showed how his erratic persona is intertwined with the very businesses world leaders have come to rely on.

Major companies, including Disney, Apple and IBM, pulled ads off X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, two weeks ago after Musk promoted a blatantly antisemitic post on the platform.

It was the latest advertiser pull out on X since Musk purchased the platform a year ago. But unlike other advertising boycott campaigns that spawned from Musk’s policy changes on the site, this was triggered by his own individual comments. 

Israel ‘can’t afford not to engage’ with Musk 

Emerson Brooking, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab, said Musk’s online behavior, coupled with privately owning the social media company without being beholden to a board of directors, puts him in a unique space even among his fellow billionaire tech CEOs. 

“[As] a single person, he wields as much influence over the social media industry as anyone. But moreover, not only has he concentrated so much power in his own hands, but he remains remarkably undisciplined and gullible for someone who spends so much time using social media platforms,” Brooking said. 

Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Israel “can’t afford not to engage with the man who owns what is arguably the most important social media tool and that is being wielded in the war for public opinion.”

“It’s not something that the Israeli government can afford to ignore. Whether or not they like what Elon Musk does, or says, matters very little at this moment, when this battle for hearts and minds is arguably at its peak,” added Schanzer, who wrote the book “Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel and Eleven Days of War.”

Musk hosted Netanyahu for a livechat on X, where he agreed with the Israeli leader that Hamas must be destroyed, credited Israel with trying to minimize civilian casualties in its war and criticized Hamas fighters as expressing joy in killing innocent civilians. 

“It’s one thing, obviously, if civilians die accidentally, but it’s another thing to revel in the joy of killing civilians, that’s evil,” Musk said.

On Tuesday, though, following the trip to Israel, Musk was back to causing online controversy. He published, then deleted, a post on X that embraced the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory about child sex trafficking. 

“Every time he shares this content, or makes these sorts of inane comments. People pay attention. New people discover these conspiracy theories. They may choose to believe them, they may choose to act on them, and that’s his responsibility,” Brooking said. 

Could Musk’s posts hurt his ‘golden goose’?

Nu Wexler, a partner at Four Corners Public Affairs who previously worked at Google, Twitter, and Facebook, said Tesla is the “golden goose” that funds many of Musk’s other ventures, including X or his new xAI company. 

Any reputational damage, “puts the rest of his empire at risk,” and with SpaceX and Tesla operating in sectors with a “lower tolerance for chaos,” that could threaten the bottom line, Wexler said. 

“It’s possible that at a certain point, if this continues, the Pentagon might say, ‘Look, maybe we don’t want to spend as much money with a CEO who talks about ‘Pizzagate.’ And that’s the real risk. It’s not really the risk to X,” Wexler said. 

Although the White House condemned Musk’s post, the administration is still on track to keep up its partnership with Musk’s SpaceX. 

Barrett said Musk’s other entities may not face an immediate impact, but in the long term his erratic behavior could eventually hurt his other enterprises. Especially as electric cars become less of a novelty, consumers may be less drawn to Tesla, he said. 

As for SpaceX, though, he said there are “too few alternatives in the commercial space industry for the government to casually just swear off a company that they’ve been working with very closely for a period of years.” 

Fifty-seven percent of all 8,955 working active satellites globally are Starlink, according to an estimate by Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer and astrophysicist at Smithsonian and Harvard Center for Astrophysics. 

World leaders weigh Musk’s comments, Starlink’s power

Musk’s online musings have put other world leaders in a position of weighing use of Starlink while condemning the billionaire’s posts. 

While Musk made Starlink available to Ukrainian forces trying to push out Russian occupying forces – and has financed its use – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticized Musk for trying to play diplomat after the billionaire floated a “peace plan” on X that called for recognizing Russian control over occupied-Ukrainian territory.

Musk has also reportedly put restrictions on Starlink that hindered Ukrainian forces ability to communicate during military operations taking place outside the range the satellites provided.

Taiwanese officials, taking lessons from Ukraine’s defense against Russia, said they see as a national security priority ensuring their communications are not knocked out in the event of Chinese aggression, but have not committed to buying Starlink.

Musk told the Financial Times in an interview published in Oct 2022 that the Chinese government sought reassurances that he would not sell Starlink to Taiwan, and then floated his own solution to resolving the conflict, which largely aligned with Beijing’s view of the island.

In September, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu targeted Musk in a post on X saying Taiwan is “certainly not for sale.”

Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s representative to the U.S. and candidate for vice president in the January elections, did not address directly reporters questions in June if Taipei was interested in purchasing Starlink to help secure its communications platforms in the event of a conflict. 

“We’re looking at, on a broader sense, what has been applied in, not only Ukraine but also in the broader international commercial market, more resilient alternatives and options available for communications,” she said, suggesting that there are market and legal challenges to relying on the commercial satellites.

Brooking said officials should be wary of what Musk says, noting that the Starlink deal with Israel was a flip from Musk’s previous offer for Starlink use for humanitarian aid organizations in Gaza. 

“It shows the ease with which he changes his own positions, but then also the doubt with which anyone should rightfully treat his public comments,” he said.

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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